When thinking about some of the early influences in American speculative fiction, one name comes to mind right away: Edgar Allan Poe. Author of many dark and strange stories, Poe was one of the first professional writers in the United States. In addition to the stories that continue to entrance readers, Poe’s influence on the genre extended to one another visionary: Jules Verne, author of From the Earth to the Moon and Journey to the Center of the Earth, in addition to many others.
Read Andrew Liptak's last post on the birth of Frankenstein.
Born in 1809, Poe has a dramatic biography. His father, actor David Poe, left the family in 1810, and his mother, Elizabeth Poe, died from tuberculosis a year later.
Orphaned, Poe soon found a home with John Allan, a shipping merchant in Boston, who brought up—but never adopted—the young Poe as his own child. Poe would enter the University of Virginia in 1826, where he racked up numerous debts that put him out of favor with Allan.
Poe enlisted in the U.S. Army to support himself, where he served in Boston and South Carolina under an assumed name. Discharged early, he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1830, but was soon dismissed for disobedience. Throughout this time, he was writing, publishing unsuccessfully, and turned to the profession full time following his departure from military service.
While Poe is generally remembered for his gothic stories, he also extended into science fiction. In 1838, he wrote The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, his only novel-length work ever published, one with numerous scientific elements in it.
The book follows the adventures of Arthur Pym (of Nantucket), as he stows away on a sailing ship that spins out into a tale of mutiny, cannibalism and exploration. The story draws in Poe’s love for the sea and some of the modern advances in arctic exploration. In many ways, modern stories set in deep space are the direct successors of the stories set among our oceans.
Poe would die at an early age in October 1849, with a death as strange as his stories and the rest of his life: found on the streets of Baltimore, dressed in someone else’s clothing, unable to explain his situation before expiring.
French author Jules Verne was a lifelong fan of Poe, having read them as a boy. Poe’s writings influenced his own, taking in a mix of the real world and the fantastic. In particular, Poe’s 1844 story, The Balloon Hoax caught Verne’s attention. His story, Five Weeks in a Balloon, was accepted for publication by Hetzel & Co., which was published to immediate success later that same year.
Writing in 1863, Verne noted that Poe’s story The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, was incomplete, and that he hoped to finish it up someday. In 1895, he finally got around to that desire, picking up where Poe had left off with a novel of his own, An Antarctic Mystery, published in 1897.
The relationship between Poe and Verne is a great example of a direct connection in literary styles: Poe blended the fantastically plausible and the real together into proto-science fiction stories, and similarly, Verne found great success with the adventures of scientific situations.
Verne departed from Poe in significant ways: Writing to his father in 1862 about Poe’s story The Balloon Hoax, Verne noted that he would strive to use realistic characters and a plausible use of science to impact his stories, rather than in fantasy constructs.
Together, Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne helped craft an important part of the literary genre that we read today. Both sought to tell stories that could exist in the real world, while blending in speculative elements. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and An Antarctic Mystery together provide an interesting, direct connection from one author to another, one that spells out an interesting future for Science Fiction.